Mr. Henry’s on Capitol Hill is lively and full of people, even on a Monday night. Their half-priced burger contribute to their beginning-of-the-week popularity, but most of the patrons seem to be regulars. Friendly bartender and server David Comolli effortlessly chats up the customers while assistant manager Cathy Nagy is upstairs saying "See you tomorrow!" to a customer. Another patron approaches her for a hug.
Known as the "Cheers of Capitol Hill" and located just one block northwest of the Eastern Market metro station, Mr. Henry's has been in operation for 50 years. The crowd seems like one huge group of people who know each other but just happen to be sitting at different tables. In fact, one group of men has been regularly going to Mr. Henry’s burger night for 40 years.
The original Mr. Henry was Henry Yaffe, who opened the spot in 1966. "On this strip alone, we’ve seen a lot of things close in the last few years," Nagy says. There have actually been a total of four Mr. Henry's locations at different times, but the one on Capitol Hill is its first and, according to Nagy, its last iteration. "We don’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon," Nagy adds.
The menu at Mr. Henry’s consists of classic American pub food. They offer the "Upstairs" menu on Friday and Saturday nights, which brings in special chef Thomas Bach cooking from the upstairs kitchen (a recent menu's offerings ranged from veal saltimbocca to braised lamb shank). It offers something special for those enjoying Mr. Henry’s famed live music events, though the daily menu, with items like crab dip and mozzarella sticks, is always available.
The friendly ambiance at Mr. Henry’s can be attributed to its staff and regulars, but it's also connected to the pub's rich musical history. Back in 1968, a young schoolteacher by the name of Roberta Flack performed on the stage at Mr. Heny's. She sang there three times a week hoping to make a career of it. Henry Yaffe even provided her with both the custom-built stage and the opportunity to quit teaching and keep singing. She was eventually discovered and went on to release "Killing Me Softly" in 1973.
Mr. Henry’s stopped doing live music events at one point, but they brought them back when Mark Steele took over as general manager about a year ago. They’ve consistently drawn crowds with daily live music events like karaoke, Jazz Jam on Wednesday nights, Jazz Fridays, and Bluegrass and Americana on Thursdays. Mr. Henry’s also hosts Ladies of Jazz on Saturdays— it was originally offered when the venue first opened.
In this city with so much transience, both in terms of the resident flow and an ever-booming restaurant scene, its staffers say the familiar atmosphere at Mr. Henry's is what makes it unique. It can be difficult in D.C. for a restaurant's staff and the clientele to develop a rapport with each other. But Mr. Henry’s still somehow manages to provide a sense of community to anyone and everyone who enters, they say.